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Florida’s top Republicans support sending kids back to school. But what about their own kids and grandkids?

Most schools in Florida would reopen in August under an emergency order from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued two weeks ago that called on locally controlled school districts to plan to send children back to school.
From left, U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
From left, U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott. [ JACQUELYN MARTIN | AP ]
Published Jul. 24, 2020|Updated Jul. 25, 2020

WASHINGTON — With Florida’s schools emerging as the latest battleground in the fight over coronavirus public health measures, the state’s three top Republicans aren’t entirely in agreement about what they think is the safest way to go to school when it comes to their own family members.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said his children, who are too young to attend school, would be going in person if they were old enough.

Sen. Rick Scott said his grandchildren will not attend school in person.

And Sen. Marco Rubio did not say if his children would attend classes in person when asked by the Miami Herald, but said he wants to see Miami’s community spread decrease in the coming weeks before students return.

“None of my two kids that are still in school have health conditions,” he said. “No one in our home does. It would be different if that were not the case.”

In Miami-Dade County, the state’s hot spot for COVID-19 cases and Rubio’s home, Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Thursday that schools won’t open if the county’s infection rate doesn’t go down, though a decision about the school year itself hasn’t been made yet for the county.

“It’s not just the kids we’re looking at,” Gimenez said in an online Washington Post interview. “We’re looking at what are the ramifications of kids getting infected at school and then coming back and infecting their parents.”

Most schools in Florida would reopen in August under an emergency order from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued two weeks ago that called on locally controlled school districts to plan to send children back to school for face-to-face learning five days a week.

On Friday — four weeks before schools would open — Miami-Dade reported 3,362 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 16 new deaths, according to Florida’s Department of Health. In all of Florida, the state confirmed 12,444 additional cases of COVID-19 and 135 new Florida resident deaths Friday, a day after the highest single-day death total since the pandemic began.

A total of 5,653 people in Florida have died from the virus so far, according to state information. And a total of 402,312 have been infected.

DeSantis was sued by Florida’s top teachers’ union on Monday over the school reopening order. He then appeared to give more slack to local school districts during a speech on Wednesday, where he said, “I believe we owe every Florida parent a choice to send your child back to school for in-person instruction, or to opt to maintain distance learning.”

Several weeks earlier, on July 8 — as the state announced another 136 deaths due to the virus — DeSantis told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, “I got a 3-year-old daughter, 2-year-old son, and a newborn daughter. And I can tell you if they were school age, I would have zero concern sending them.”

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Scott seemed clear this week that his grandchildren wouldn’t be going into classrooms any time soon, telling Fox Business that “my daughters are going to be more focused on distance learning right now to make sure their children are safe, but I know other parents are going to want to make sure their kids are back in the classroom.”

Rubio, though, as recently as Thursday implied that he would be comfortable sending his children back to school if Miami-Dade’s community spread decreases in the coming weeks, though he did not say so explicitly. The county is still in Phase 1 of the reopening process, and Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district will hold classes entirely online if the county does not move to Phase 2 by Aug. 24.

Rubio said he would like schools to impose social distancing policies, improve ventilation and conduct rapid contact tracing if a positive case is reported, though health officials in Miami have argued the state’s contact tracing efforts are insufficient. He said those steps are “successful at substantially reducing risk.”

“That’s easier to do in a one-school setting. My kids are in a public charter,” Rubio said. “But it’s much harder to do systemically across a big system. You have a school that has 1,600 students, for example.”

Charter schools in Miami-Dade County have their own governing boards and are able to impose their own standards for reopening, though they can also follow Miami-Dade Schools’ standards.

Florida has five of the country’s 10 largest public school systems: Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

Carvalho said Wednesday that, for now, he was not planning on opening the state’s largest district next month.

“As of today, based on that set of criteria and metrics, it would not be appropriate for us to bring students back to school,” Carvalho said on CNN. “The conditions are not currently appropriate for us to be able to teach kids [and] at the same [time] safeguard their well-being and their health.”

Miami Herald reporter Colleen Wright contributed to this report.

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